Lee Zurik Investigation: Sheriff finally cuts costly fees for law firm

Published: Oct. 31, 2013 at 11:44 PM CDT|Updated: Nov. 1, 2013 at 2:00 AM CDT
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A FOX 8 investigation helps save New Orleans taxpayers as much as $1 million.

We've been following a questionable legal arrangement between the Orleans Parish sheriff and a local law firm. Beginning Friday, that arrangement will change.

Sheriff Marlin Gusman paid the law firm of Usry, Weeks and Matthews $1.7 million a year. The law firm billed the sheriff a flat fee, $65,000, every two weeks. The invoices they submitted were vague, containing no detailed explanation of any charges.

Usry and Weeks didn't have a contract with the sheriff, just an unwritten agreement. Gusman would never comment publicly on the arrangement.

But Thursday the Sheriff's Office sent us a new legal agreement, effective Friday. The sheriff will now pay the law firm at an hourly rate, $175 an hour. And the new contract says the firm must submit itemized statements and a detailed account of the work being done.

Further, the total fees in a month cannot exceed $65,000. This means, at the very least, the value of this arrangement basically will be cut in half. Instead of paying $1.7 million a year, the most the firm can earn a year is $780,000.